Where was South Africa when Mandela died?

Mountain ranger

I know were I was. I spent that week in a suburban area of Pretoria called Mountain View. The day Madiba died, I was climbing the hills to get an overview of Pretoria.

The day started with some pool workers coming by to fix the last tiles of the pool. Three men, two black and one white. Then the plumbers came, one black, one white. The white boss left almost straight away to pick up something by another friend or customer. He asked me to wait an hour so that I could let him in the gate. After one hour I let the keys to the hard working black guy. Very fortunate, since the white boss didn’t turn up until almost 4 hours later…. And very strange for me that the assistant wasn’t recognized as thrustworthy.

I walked for several hours in the mountains, getting a little perspective over Pretoria. It was a sunny and hot day. I walked in a steady pace, wearing knee long shorts, my bush hat and a red and colourful sarong (a huge scarf like clothing) over my upper body, revealing little as I didn’t want to get sun burned. I also carried a small, red rucksack and a solid walking rod. I had a laugh when I was returning. In the distance were the path lead up to the mountain, I could see three persons coming up the hill. My thoughts were this was a family: A father with his kids. Approaching but still at distance, I recognized it was three white guys who couldn’t decide which peak to climb. I noticed they were looking in my direction. Yes, I can admit I might have looked a little strange form distance, but would not think a lonely walker would look frightening in the mountains. The guys started walking in my direction, but suddenly turned around and started to run away as I was getting closer. Yes, they actually ran down the hill, which I thought was either very reckless or part of some training.

My girlfriend told me later that my outfit might have looked quite strange. Guess my skin colour wasn’t really visible either, the way I was dressed and with the sun from behind.

Back home. Hot and sweaty. Grabbing a bear and sat down on the stairs into the backyard when the white plumber boss arrived. We spoke a little and he seemed pleased about me mentioning South Africa as a very beautiful country, though very badly governed by this government. Which is my sincere opinion. In this amazingly beautiful country with a lot of resources, sun as maybe the biggest, unexploited one, I always feel heartbroken knowing about the poverty still dividing the county’s population. All the talk about poverty, while the elite try to justify it’s corruption and benefits while a vast amount of people struggle every day, 365 days a year.

The white plumber wasn’t too interested in following up our conversation. He more or less jumped out in the middle of a sentence to have a talk with the other boss who I hadn’t notice was sitting in the shade in the garden, watching the two young guys lying tiles in the baking sun, on their knees without padding, which for me seemed a little reckless, having had problems with me knees for many years. The plumbers’ helper was working hard in the bathroom. White guys chitchatting in the shade. A setting that any were else in the world would have looked strange as it besides of class differences, also pointed out some racial differences, to put it out mildly.

My girlfriend came home from work a little later. She laughed about my mountain story and my hiking outfit and I reckoned I might have looked like a voodoo ranger steaming ahead to the mountain intruders. One scary monster freaking out those three pale guys.

We decided to try another place out for dinner in this sleepy little suburb. On our way, we passed the pizza place, noticing that not even one table was interracial. But we had already eaten there the day before, so we went on. It wasn’t really any other restaurants in this area, but some small pubs, some serving food as well. We chose the third one. Only white guys inside. Some of them actually said Hello to me, though not my girlfriend. Others just looked at us from the corner of their eyes, as we are so used to as an interracial couple. The bartender didn’t care too much about serving us in a polite way. Guess he wasn’t into getting new customers… His look at the black cook, especially when a friend came by, wasn’t really soothing. Where I come from, it would have been considered unprofessional, even rude, again to put it mildly.

Later that night, we got a notice about Nelson Mandela. We were not sure what to believe, as we couldn’t get any confirmation at that time and we both had seen several announcements of Mandela’s death during the last year.

Next morning Mandela’s death was confirmed and on the radio on every station. Heading to the office through Pretoria in the rush hour next morning, we noticed something strange. The traffic was heavy, but everyone seemed to let us through and we never had a smoother drive through heavy traffic in Pretoria ever. Some people even waved a little extra to us. For the first time ever, we benefitted of being a mixed, interracial couple in South Africa.

So where is this story heading? No, it is not really about what I was doing on the 5th or 6th of December 2013. Hardly even new observations either as it was not my first time in SA. Yes, I am a foreigner in SA, though I consider myself as a global citizen and a free and cosmic spirit. Were I grew up, the vast majority of the citizens are white, still we don’t see interracial couples as odd. I rather guess most people actually think it is beautiful. I am white with blond hair; still I kind of get more acceptance in black communities and parties than among whites in South Africa. Is it really that strange to have a girlfriend or a beautiful stepdaughter with a different skin colour than my own? In 2013 or 2014? Sometimes I wonder if people, especially the white population of SA, have forgotten it is a world outside SA. A world where most people get along, despite different political or religious views, sexual orientation or skin colour. Mandela’s death might awaken those sleepy, unconscious minds, as his death and the memorial period obviously

mountain ranger, cuthad the world’s attention as he was highly appreciated  and loved world-wide for his struggle and not to forget his forgiveness towards his former suppressors. Wake up South Africa and join the world! Long live the spirit of Mandela.


— Ole A. Seifert


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